Agnes Ravatn’s 2013 novel, The Bird Tribunal, is driven by the psychological tension between the two protagonists. It isn’t so much about what happens in the novel as it is about what the narrator fears could happen.
TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job in the midst of a sex scandal, and takes a job helping out a strange character named Sigurd Bagge around his house, located beside a fjord in the middle of nowhere. Her job is to cook and clean and tend the garden. She deals with the scandal by simply skipping town and disappearing. The book emerges from the evolving relationship between Allis and Sigurd, which is wrought with tension, fear and inexplicable behaviour.
Both characters have their secrets, and the narrator may not be as reliable as she seems. The only other character we meet more than once in the book is the operator of a small and poorly stocked store. She seems to have special knowledge of both the main characters, and at one point makes a comment to Allis that seems to be related to a bizarre dream Sigurd related to Allis. At a certain point in the book, the store-keeper simply disappears. I found myself jumping to the conclusion that Sigurd was somehow involved with her disappearance.
The Bird Tribunal is a dark novel, sometimes a little frustrating, more often than not disturbing. Although there is little enough plot you could outline it very quickly, this novel is a page turner. I found it difficult to put down and I read it quite quickly.
Excellent novel. 27th Street recommended.